State Sues Travel Club Companies That Failed to Provide Services; Promised Free Gifts Also Not Provided
CHERRY HILL - The Office of the Attorney General, through its Division of
Consumer Affairs, has filed suit in state Superior Court against travel club
companies operating under several different names and their principal, charging
that they failed to provide any services to consumers and misrepresented their
relationship with hotel, airline and car rental companies through the unauthorized
use of their corporate logos.
Defendants Dreamworks Vacation Club (also known as Dreamworks Vacations and
Dreamworks), Five Points Travel Company and Bentley Travel are accused of depicting
specific resorts, regions and packages in mailings and sales presentations that,
in actuality, were not available to consumers. Defendant Daryl T. Turner is the
owner and operator of these companies. The investigation that led to the State's
action began with the Burlington County Consumer Affairs Local Assistance (CALA)
office, and was referred to the Division of Consumer Affairs for joint investigation.
Burlington County CALA Director Renee L. Borstad joined with Consumer Affairs
Director David Szuchman to announce the lawsuit at a press conference today at
the Division's South Jersey office in Cherry Hill.
"We believe the defendants had no intention of providing the advertised travel services. They lured consumers in with promises of deep discounts, free gifts and misrepresentations about their affiliation with respected corporations, all for the purposes of defrauding consumers and enriching themselves," Szuchman said.
"Dreamworks and its other vacation clubs offered a 'dream' vacation that was too good to be true. Consumers must realize that high-pressure sales tactics, coupled with
prepaid vacation packages, plus freebee airline ticket offers are always a dangerous combination," said Borstad.
"We appreciate Attorney General Milgram and Director Szuchman working with us and our consumers to bring Dreamworks Vacation Club and its principals before the court, where they can be held accountable. Hopefully consumers will learn to walk away from any offer that sounds too good to be true, as it probably is," Borstad added.
In addition to not providing the contracted-for travel packages, the defendants also did not provide the free gifts that consumers were led to believe they would receive, including seven-day cruises, round-trip airline tickets for two, hotel stays, free dinners, car rentals and/or free gas coupons. When consumers contacted the "800" telephone number listed on the mailings to claim their gifts, they were informed that they had to attend a 90-minute sales presentation for vacation packages. Even if they attended the presentations, consumers were not provided with the gifts.
Consumers paid $1,200 to $8,000 upfront to purchase a vacation package, but were not provided with the airline, hotel or other travel arrangements at the price and quality represented by defendants prior to purchase.
Dreamworks and Five Points Travel Company have business and mailing addresses in Parsippany, Morris County; Sewell, Gloucester County; and Westampton, Burlington County. Bentley Travel is not incorporated to do business in New Jersey. Turner's address of record is in Cherry Hill, Camden County.
The state's eight-count Complaint, filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Morris County, alleges that the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act and Advertising Regulations by:
Utilizing the terms "Bailout", "Division of Revenue" and "Department of Funding" on mailings sent to consumers to falsely imply that the mailing originated from a state or federal government agency or department;
In mail solicitations and other advertising materials, utilizing without authorization, the trademarks of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and restaurants;
Forwarding mailings to consumers which indicated that consumers were entitled to complimentary gifts, when receipt of such gifts were conditioned upon attendance at a sales presentation for vacation packages;
During sales presentations, inducing consumers to purchase vacation packages by showing them brochures with resort areas and packages that were not available;
Advising consumers prior to purchase that they have the right to cancel the contract if they were not satisfied with the vacation package, and then refusing to permit the consumers to cancel the contract;
Charging consumers' credit cards for fees and services that were not authorized by the consumers;
Submitting bills to collection agencies after consumers have cancelled the contract and formally disputed the charges;
Representing to consumers that they were members of the Better Business Bureau ("BBB") in good standing, when such was not the case;
Failing to disclose to consumers prior to their purchase of a vacation package that they would be required to pay additional fees prior to utilizing the service;
Requiring consumers to sign incomplete or blank sales contracts for vacation packages and then failing to provide consumers with full and accurate copies of such contracts;
Failing to include in the contract a statement advising consumers of their right to cancel prior to the midnight of the third business day after execution of the contract.
To date, the Division has received complaints from 198 consumers against the defendants either directly or from the Burlington County CALA Office.
The state's lawsuit seeks injunctive and other relief, maximum civil penalties, consumer restitution and reimbursement of the state's legal fees and investigative costs.
"There were no unexpected issues here that affected the defendants' ability to arrange flights, rental cars and accommodations - we allege that the defendants never intended to provide anything in return for the hard-earned money that consumers paid for these promised travel packages," Director Szuchman said. "Consumers in fact could find lower prices through free internet web sites."
Consumers can file complaints with the Division on its Web site at http://www.nj.gov/oag/ca/ocp/ocpform.htm or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free within N.J.) or 973-504-6200.
Deputy Attorney General Gina M. Betts of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section is representing the state in this action.
Verified Complaint [pdf]